Stuart Forster reports on Dover attractions beyond Dover Castle while waiting for a ferry on the south coast of England.
Planning a ferry trip from Dover to France that means you’ll have time to spare before your sailing? The town has several attractions where you can easily spend a couple of hours. Here’s a look at Dover Castle and other things to do while waiting for a ferry.
I recently made my way to Calais aboard a DFDS Ferry. Arriving in Dover well ahead of my planned departure enabled me to undertake a spot of sightseeing even before leaving England. This allowed me to cover the main Dover attractions to allow me to plan this Dover travel guide as well as covering key Dover Castle facts.
Exploring Dover Castle
Dover Castle proved a rewarding place to head for views over the Port of Dover and town. The strategic, easy-to-defend hilltop has been utilised for centuries.
The castle is the biggest in England and the location of the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country. The Roman Pharos, whose time- and weather-worn remains stands next to St-Mary-in-Castro church, is 1,900 years old.
A plaque inside of the church, whose origins are from Saxon times, made me contemplate the scale of casualties of World War One.
Dover Castle facts
During that conflict the castle was utilised as a military base. A Fire Command Post conveys how sentries scanned the Channel for enemy warships, whose profiles are displayed on the walls.
During World War Two the castle served a similar purpose. Tunnels were excavated from the chalk beneath the castle during the 1790s, when Britain feared invasion from Napoleon’s Army. Originally dug to billet defenders they were extended in the face of a similar threat posed by German forces.
During May 1940 the tunnels — whose existence was kept secret — were used as the command post for Operation Dynamo, which saw Allied troops withdrawn from Dunkirk. I joined a guided tour of the tunnels, where videos and recordings bring to life aspects of that chapter of 20th century history.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the underground hospital, escape room or the regimental museums in the castle. If you enjoy taking your time to read displays, it’s easy to spend half-a-day exploring the castle.
King Henry II’s Great Tower
Looking out to sea from the rooftop of the Great Tower, a keep erected during the reign of King Henry II, I wondered what kind of impression the vast fortification would have had on people 800 years ago. Even today it’s a large building. In the late-12th century its scale must have wowed people.
That didn’t stop the castle from being besieged in 1216, during the First Barons’ War.
Décor within the great hall, royal bed chamber and kitchens gives an impression of how they might have looked long ago.
The castle makes a rewarding place to spend time as history is lucidly brought to life in a location whose scale and strategic significance is enormous.
Other Dover attractions
Walk up or down the wonderfully named Grand Shaft, a staircase linking Dover’s harbour to the Western Heights. A triple staircase corkscrews 140 feet through the chalk of the White Cliffs. It was built at the time of the Napoleonic Wars to enable military personnel to move rapidly between their barracks and the harbour.
The soldiers’ barracks were on the Western Heights, the location of the Drop Redoubt and Citadel forts. Both were built at the beginning of the 19th century but the latter was expanded in the 1850s in the wake of renewed fears of a French invasion.
Find out about life in Dubris (Dover) when it was part of the Roman Empire at the Roman Painted House (New Street). Travellers were passing through Dover even in Roman times. The Roman Painted House dates from around 200 and was rediscovered by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit in the 1970s. It was a mansio, meaning ‘hotel’, with a hypocaust heating system and murals depicting the god Bacchus. Five rooms have been excavated.
Snap a picture of the Banksy mural. Depicting a workman standing on a ladder and chipping away one of the stars of a European Union flag, it can be seen on the gable end of a house in Dover. It was added overnight during May 2017 and can be seen from the A20, on the way towards the Port of Dover.
Stroll along the waterfront. At Marine Parade, overlooking the Outer Harbour, you can see a statue of Charles Rolls, whose surname formed half of the Rolls-Royce brandname. Rolls was also an aviation pioneer. On 2 June 1910 he was the first pilot to make a non-stop double aerial crossing of the Channel. Just 40 days later he was the first Briton to be killed in an aviation accident.
The world’s oldest-known seagoing boat is displayed in the free-to-visit Dover Museum. The vessel is approximately 3,000 years old. Dateing from the Bronze Age, it was discovered in 1992 during the construction of the A20 road between Dover and Folkestone.
The White Cliffs of Dover count among England’s most iconic natural landmarks. Why not stroll along the clifftops to visit South Foreland Lighthouse. The lighthouse’s claim to fame is that it was the first to use an electric light. Of course, singing or whistling (There’ll be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover, the song made famous by Vera Lynn’s wartime recording, is entirely optional!
See English Heritage’s Dover Castle page for information about the historic site’s opening times, entry prices and more details about the things to do and see there.
The White Cliffs Country tourism information website has details about places of interest in Dover, Deal and Sandwich as well as other Dover attractions.
The Visit Kent website also has information about what’s on and places to stay in and around Dover.
For travellers arriving by ferry, Dover is the first place they set foot in the country. The Visit England website has ideas about places to visit across the nation.
Photographs illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography. Why Eye Photography specialises in travel photography and undertakes assignments worldwide. If you have a project the you’d like to have photographed, please call 07947 587136 to discuss your requirements.
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